George W. Bush was elected the 43rd president of the United States, defeating Al Gore and ending an agonizingly close election Tuesday, according to TV network projections.

The candidates endured a long, seesaw night of vote counting that lingered into the early-morning hours. TV networks called Bush as the winner at 2:20 a.m. after projecting that he had won a narrow victory in Florida. The Gore campaign immediately demanded a recount in Florida, where Bush's brother Jeb, is the governor.Gore won big battlegrounds in Pennsylvania, Michigan and California, and Bush claimed Texas, Ohio and a string of smaller states, including Gore's Tennessee and Bill Clinton's Arkansas.

The math was excruciating for both campaigns; both candidates were within reach of an electoral majority and agonizing defeat. Neither Bush nor Gore had the 270 electoral votes needed to claim victory as of 1 a.m., more than six hours after the first polls closed.

Bush had 271 electoral votes from 30 states; Gore had 249 electoral votes from 18 states and the District of Columbia.

A minimum of 270 electoral votes was needed to win.

Florida was pivotal and chaotic; news organizations said at one point that Gore was the winner, but the results were thrown into doubt as more votes were counted and Bush forged ahead.

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was at 2 percent of the national vote, but doing well enough to potentially tip several states to Bush.

Ever confident, Bush went out for dinner and awaited final returns. ``I don't believe some of these states that they called, like Florida,' said the Texas governor. Regarding the vice president, Bush said, ``I've run against a formidable opponent.'

The GOP sought to retain its fragile six-year hold on Congress and voters faced a full roster of propositions and state and local offices on the first general election day of the 21st Century. Democrats needed to pick up five seats in the House, eight in the Senate to guarantee control - an uphill task on both counts.

In New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton made history, becoming the nation's first first lady to win a Senate seat. ``You taught me, you tested me,' Clinton told her adopted New Yorkers. ``I am determined to make a difference for all of you.'

The presidential race - among the closest in a generation - foretold the end to Bill Clinton's turbulent eight years in office.

``It looks like the candidate who wins Florida will be the next president of the United States,' said Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani, a practical reality more than a mathematical certainty.

Maine gave three of its four electoral votes to Gore, while the final one was still undecided.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said, ``I'm used to counting the votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but I'm not used to counting votes in the electoral college.'

As the anxiety mounted, Bush changed his plans to watch the returns with a large group of family and friends at a hotel. He opted instead for the seclusion of the governor's mansion.

It was no less tense in Democratic quarters.

``It will be late and there will be lots of surprises,' said Gore campaign chairman, William Daley.

No vote was overlooked. Party sources say Gore aides called for fresh troops for New Hampshire get out the vote operations. The Ted Kennedy campaign sent 250 or so volunteers - all that for four electoral votes.

Not that it mattered, but with votes tallied from 72 percent of the precincts, Bush was ahead in the popular vote. Nader was at 2 percent and Pat Buchanan barely registered.

Nader said he didn't mind that his race caused electoral mischief. ``You can't spoil a system spoiled to the core,' Nader said.

Interviews as voters left their polling places by Voter News Service said that a candidate's position on issues was more influential than his personal qualities, and about one in five voters didn't make up their minds until the last week. Many of those tipped toward Gore.

In Senate races, former Virginia Gov. George Allen ousted Sen. Charles Robb from the Senate, diminishing Democratic hopes to regain control. Republicans also picked up a Democrat seat in Nevada, while Democrats picked up GOP seats in Florida, Delaware and Minnesota.

In Missouri, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan defeated Republican Sen. John Ashcroft. Carnahan's widow, Jean, said she would accept Gov. Roger Wilson's offer of a Senate appointment.

Rep. Jim Rogan fought to hold his southern California seat in the costliest House race in history. Rogan was a leader in the House impeachment effort. At late evening, Democrats and Republicans had each picked up a seat.

There were hopes the showdown would inspire higher turnout, reversing the trend of recent elections. At a West Little Rock polling site, the line snaked through a church gymnasium and out into the parking lot. In Reisterstown, Md., attorney Paul Beckman said, ``I'd walk a mile to vote.'

The voting day poll indicated Bush fared well among those who cared most about world affairs and taxes. Voters who cared most about Medicare and prescription drugs, Social Security, health care and the economy tended to favor Gore. Both candidates were seen as good for schools, an issue that traditionally has favored Democrats.

Individual considerations had an impact: Voters who cared most about a candidate's honesty favored Bush and those who wanted a president with experience mostly sided with Gore.

About one in four said reports that Bush had been arrested in 1976 for drunken driving was important to their vote. Nearly half of voters said Clinton ``scandals' was an important reason for their choice.

Eleven gubernatorial contests were being decided Tuesday, along with legislatures that will wield wide influence in next year's congressional redistricting.

Democrats held their governorships in Delaware, New Hampshire, Indiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina - and scored an upset in West Virginia, where Gov. Cecil Underwood lost to Rep. Bob Wise.

But it was the race between the son of a former president and the son of a former senator that captured the attention of voters who had often ignored politics during recent years of relative peace and ongoing prosperity.

Bush, 54, just six years into his first political job, promised to end the Clinton-Gore ``season of cynicism,' cut taxes, improve schools, build up the military and reshape Social Security.

Benefiting from family connections and Texas-sized expectations, Bush raised a record-shattering $103 million as he aimed to settle a score as well as reach the political pinnacle: Clinton-Gore swept his father from office in 1993.

America has had father-and-son presidents only once: John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829).

In TV ads and on the campaign trail, Bush said Gore couldn't be trusted. Gore, 52, said Bush didn't have the experience to be president. The Texas governor countered by tapping his father's defense secretary Dick Cheney, a Washington veteran, as running mate.

Gore chose Lieberman, the first Jewish candidate on a major national ticket, and a voice of moral authority during the impeachment debate.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Load comments